“I’ve lost my rudder in the chuck!” (More Coast Guard Tales)

Fog closes in as several boats leave Princess Louisa Inlet

16 June 2012

What do you do when you hear someone cry out over the radio, “I’ve lost my rudder in the chuck?”

If you’re the Comox Coast Guard Station, you reply immediately: “Station who reported losing its rudder in the chuck, do you need assistance? What is your location?”

It is foggy and pouring rain. We’re coming back down Jervis Inlet from Princess Louisa with the radar on; without it, we wouldn’t see much at all.  No splendid mountain views and photo opportunities around every corner this trip. Worse still, Mr. Lost-his-rudder-in-the-chuck and the Coast Guard aren’t communicating too well. A boat called “Devilfish” offers to try to relay messages, but that doesn’t work either.   Finally a voice comes on the radio, the roar of an engine in the background, to report that Mr. Lost-his-rudder-in-the-chuck “was on the rocks in a back eddy in the Skookumchuck Rapids.  I’m trying to tow him out.”

All that you can see in this wet weather

The Coast Guard radio operator wants to know then, “Who are you? Do you need assistance?”

The driver of the helpful boat reports, “We’re doing okay here for the moment.  I’m an aluminum craft. No name,” and then he gets back to work.

Unfortunately for the Coast Guard, they have to track every radio contact by place and vessel name.  They persist then in trying to find out the name of the “no name” vessel—“is no name your name?” Other vessels also get into the act—just what is going on there in the Skookumchuck (Sechelt Rapids) on this dark and drenching day?

Here’s part of what the Sailing Directions: British Columbia Coast (South Portion) has to say about those waters: Sechelt Rapids, known locally as Skookumchuck Rapids, is at the south end of Skookumchuck Narrows.  It is formed by Boom Islet, Sechelt Islets and numerous rocks and shoals.  The roar from the rapids can be heard for several miles.

It is hazardous for any vessel to attempt to navigate Sechelt Rapids except at or near slack water.

Tidal streams attain 15 knots on the flood and 16 knots on the ebb during large tides….Low powered vessels, or those that tend to answer the helm sluggishly, may find themselves being spun about or set upon the west shore if attempting to abort passage through the rapids.

This is not a good place to lose your rudder—or to have to be rescued.  The name—formed from two words in Chinook, a 19th century west coast trading language, skookum, or strong, and chuck, saltwater—says it all.

Finally the skipper of the aluminum vessel gets back on the radio to report that he’s delivered “dropped-rudder-in-the-chuck” to dock safely.  “My boat has no name,” he says again.  “I have to run now; I have things to take care of. We’ll talk later.”

Another anonymous and busy hero, here sung, though clearly not by name.

About Karin Cope

Karin Cope lives on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. She is a poet, sailor, photographer, scholar, rural activist, blogger and an Associate Professor at NSCAD University. Her publications include Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein, a poetry collection entitled What we're doing to stay afloat, and, since 2009, a photo/poetry blog entitled Visible Poetry: Aesthetic Acts in Progress. Over the course of the last decade, with her partner and collaborator Marike Finlay, Cope has sailed to and conducted fieldwork in a number of remote or marginal coastal communities in British Columbia and Mexico. Their joint writings range from activist journalism and travel and policy documents, to an illustrated popular material history of the Lunenburg Foundry entitled Casting a Legend, as well as their ongoing west coast travel blog, West By East.
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